What does it really take to make a workplace “special”? Hiring people with disabilities is unthinkable for some, aspirational but challenging for some. What will it take to make it business as usual? Some perspectives on these questions, in conversation with Anubhuti Mittal of Anubhuti HR Consultants.

Around 10 per cent of the world’s population, or 650 million people, live with a disability. Persons with disability (PWDs) are the world’s largest minority, and 80% of them live in developing countries, according to UNDP (2007). About 7% of India’s population is disabled and these approximately 70 million people face multiple disadvantages, be it in education, employment or healthcare. The National Centre for the Employment of People with Disabilities (NCPEDP) estimates that ony about 100,000 PWDs (less than 1%) have succeeded in finding employment in India across public and private sectors.

On paper, there is an impressive range of Government interventions in place to facilitate employment of PWDs. These include public sector employment reservations, incentives for private sector hiring of PWD, Special Employment Exchanges for PWD, and Vocational Rehabilitation Centres (VRCs) under the Ministry of Labour for PWD in addition to NGO vocational training initiatives. (Source: World Bank report on “People with disabilities in India” 2007). But the reality on the ground is far bleaker than this list suggests. As far as private sector participation is concerned, corporates are still mired in stereotypical attitudes regarding PWDs. Titan industries was one of the first companies who recruited PWDs for their operations. The list has since expanded to include the likes of Mphasis, IBM, Mindtree, Yum foods, Thomson Reuters, Cafe Coffee Day, Mirakle Couriers, to name just a few.

We spoke to Anubhuti of Anubhuti HR solutions, a one-stop HR Consultancy offering end-to-end advisory for corporates looking to hire PWDs. Solutions to organizations include access audits, sensitization programs, workplace solutions and finally, recruitment

Anubhuti receiving the Helen Keller award

of suitable profiles. Anubhuti’s idea is to educate and create a positive environment for the disabled to find fruitful work. She launched her social enterprise in 2005 and since then there has been no looking back.  Facilitating employment for 500+ PWDs across all industries and levels, receiving the Manav Seva Award (2009) for social entrepreneurship and the Shell-NCPEDP Helen Keller Award (2007) are only some of her achievements.

Sensitisation session in progress at Pepsico - one of Anubhuti's clients

According to Anubhuti, one of the main challenges in CSR is the lack of a long-term focus and strategy. Barring a few notables, companies want CSR which is quick, visible, high-impact, forgetting or ignoring that fact that the issues at hand are complex and interconnected. Disability in particular is what Anubhuti terms a “black hole” for corporates. With insufficient knowledge and preconceived notions of what is and is not possible, it is phenomenally difficult to entice corporates to look at the differently-abled as viable employment profiles. Anubhuti has worked both with large companies (like IBM, Genpact, YUM foods, ITC hotels and Pepsico) and smaller ones, and in general, potential employers maintain that the main issue is because disabled people usually do not possess the requisite educational qualifications. “Skill gap is an issue with the entire working population but yes, it is very sharpened in the case of disabled people,” says Anubhuti.

The solution of course, lies in having an inclusive education system and vocational training. For years, the movers and shakers of the disability sector have been talking about mainstreaming disability. One big reason why disability issues have lagged behind in the development agenda was, and continues to be, because disability is being looked at in isolation. When we talk about education, we do not somehow include children with disability; when we talk about women’s rights, we do not include women with disabilities, etc. Just as the feminist movement in the 1960s and 70s ensured that women’s issues and gender were included in every development agenda, so too must practitioners and policy-makers do the same for disability.

Anubhuti admits that companies are but a product of our cultural and societal ethos. The fundamental change in our attitudes towards the disabled will happen very slowly and has to start right from the bottom, with sensitivity beginning at school and home. Where a particular organization has been successful in consistently including disabled people, top management buy-in,  constant involvement and a clear strategic vision has been critical.  What is also critical is to institutionalize the culture of inclusiveness and diversity. Initiatives that are person-dependent may be initially successful but will fizzle out sooner or later.  Anubhuti asserts that affirmative action is also required in the start-up stages especially in large companies that can promote and foster employment of PWDs and be beacons for smaller companies.

We will be highlighting more successful case studies, resource organizations and relevant sectoral challenges/issues in subsequent blog posts. The corporate world must start thinking and acting seriously to integrate marginalized populations like the disabled. Talk is cheap, it is said. Now  corporations need to step up and walk the talk!